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J. Roderick MacArthur

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center is a public interest law firm founded in 1985 by the family of J. Roderick MacArthur to advocate for human rights and social justice through litigation. In 2006, the MacArthur Justice Center became part of Northwestern University School of Law's Bluhm Legal Clinic in Chicago. A second office was opened in New Orleans in 2013.  In 2014, an office was opened at the University of Mississippi School of Law, which also is home to the new MacArthur Justice Clinic.

As one of the premier civil rights organizations in the United States, the MacArthur Justice Center has led battles against myriad civil rights injustices, including police misconduct (leading the charge to appoint a special prosecutor in the Jon Burge torture cases in Chicago), executions (helping to abolish the Illinois death penalty), fighting for the rights of the indigent in the criminal justice system, and winning multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements for the wrongfully convicted.

Solange MacArthur

The MacArthur Justice Center has been at the forefront of challenges to the detention of terrorism suspects without trial or access to the courts. MacArthur Justice Center lawyers have appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue for the rights of detainees.

"We are outraged when the rule of law is abandoned in favor of expediency," says Center Executive Director Locke Bowman. "And so we fight for the rights of folks whose voices don't get heard in the criminal justice system. We're concerned about people on death row, about people accused of crimes but who cannot afford lawyers, about folks who are innocent and must be compensated for the time they wrongly spent in prison." 

Founding of the MacArthur Justice Center

The following is adapted from a longer article about J. Roderick MacArthur, founder of the MacArthur Justice Center, that appeared in the August 1984 issue of Chicago Lawyer, shortly before Mr. MacArthur's death.

If J. Roderick MacArthur weren't J. Roderick MacArthur, he would be a good candidate for one of those genius grants his father's foundation gives out. Everyone agrees he is a genius—mad genius, say his critics.

Not only is Rod MacArthur, 63, the son of a billionaire, he also is a self-made multimillionaire. He made his money in just a little more than a decade in the collector's plate business.

MacArthur is the genius behind the Bradford Exchange, "the world's largest trading center for limited-edition collector's plates, the most widely traded art form."

The Bradford Exchange, in north suburban Niles, looks like a miniature New York Stock Exchange. It has a computerized "instaquote" trading system that "handles more than 11,000 transactions each business day."

The genius of the Bradford Exchange is that it establishes an orderly secondary market for this "art form," which MacArthur happens to be heavily into producing and selling. His plate sales in 1983 totaled about $90 million.

Using some of the profits, he established the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, with assets currently of about $22 million. Known as "Little Mac," as opposed to "Big Mac," its purpose is "to foster democracy" by helping persons "who are inequitably treated by established institutions."

One of Little Mac's principal beneficiaries is the American Civil Liberties Union, which honored MacArthur recently with its Roger Baldwin Award for supporting human rights causes worldwide.

In accepting, MacArthur, who is dying of cancer, told the group that at one time he thought civil liberties were important just because they guaranteed the survival of antiestablishment viewpoints.

"But now I believe I was wrong," he said. "Civil liberties are really more than that. They are really ends in themselves. They are part of what makes us personally human with human integrity. They need no further justification. Standing up for civil liberties is simply part of our loyalty to our human race."

After thanking the ACLU and everyone present, he concluded: "I know you know that my time is short. I wish I could be with you, shoulder to shoulder, in all the coming battles. But I have to be content with our footprints briefly mingling on the line of march. There is much to do. I am reassured by the knowledge that any empty ranks I and others leave will be filled by those who believe that civil liberties are not just a means but the essence of ourselves as humans."

© 1984, Chicago Lawyer, All Rights Reserved

David J. Bradford, Founding Attorney of the MacArthur Justice Center: Cliff Johnson, Director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law; Katie M. Schwartzmann, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center at New Orleans; Locke E. Bowman, Executive Director of the MacArthur Justice Center; James W. Craig, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center at New Orleans; Emily M. Washington, staff attorney in New Orleans; and Alexa Van Brunt, David M. Shapiro and Sheila Bedi, attorneys in the Chicago office of the MacArthur Justice Center.

Chicago »

The Chicago office of the MacArthur Justice Center has led battles against civil rights injustices, including police misconduct; secured millions of dollars in compensation for the wrongfully convicted; fought against the detention of terrorism suspects without trial or access to the courts; provided legal representation to indigent defendants; and challenged the constitutionality of the parole revocation process in Illinois.  Students at the Northwestern University School of Law are involved in nearly every lawsuit — conducting legal research, planning next steps to advance litigation and gaining first-hand experience in court while serving on litigation teams. 

New Orleans »

The New Orleans office opened in November 2013, expanding opportunities for the MacArthur Justice Center to affect civil rights and human rights through litigation to reform the criminal justice system. The New Orleans office now has the lead litigation responsibility in Jones v. Gusman, a federal lawsuit alleging pervasive violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights in the Orleans Parish Prison.

Mississippi »

Opened in August 2014, the MacArthur Justice Center at Oxford will focus on issues such as police misconduct, wrongful search and seizure, conditions of confinement, juvenile justice, inmate access to health care and mental health treatment, access to parole, prosecutorial misconduct, discrimination in the criminal justice system, and indigent rights. In addition, the MacArthur Justice Clinic at the University of Mississippi School of Law will provide law students with opportunities to participate in all aspects of the Center’s litigation.

St. Louis »

Opened in 2016, the St. Louis office has expanded opportunities for the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center to use litigation as a tool to provoke criminal justice reform. The St. Louis office fights against injustice on both sides of the Mississippi River with special focus on racial bias in policing, juvenile justice, prison and jail reform, right to counsel, court reform, sentencing and parole practices generally, and the death penalty.